Through a lens darkly
Posted: 30 Apr 2012 | By: Victoria Hynes
Tracking down artist Wend Lear for an interview can be a challenging process. The Adelaide-based photographer is often ensconced in remote locations and regularly travels abroad to far-flung parts of the world with no mobile access.
A freelance photographer for twelve years, when not shooting in Australia she self-funds projects to developing and war-torn countries to document the situation and teach children and local photographers how to record their own lives through photography.
Her impassioned street photographs from nations in conflict such as East Timor, Palestine or Nigeria, sit in stark contrast to her work shot locally. In her series Blindspot, shown in 2010 at Hill Smith Gallery in Adelaide, she presented large diptychs of urban and suburban street life in a nameless Australian city. Here, her compositions are cool, ordered and minimalistic. Shadowy figures emerge from behind shopfronts and office buildings, their heads often hidden from view, as they wait at bus stops or cross a suburban street. Solitary figures with long silhouettes are offset by shafts of bright sunlight, creating an ambience of quietude and social isolation, not unlike a Jeffrey Smart painting. Renowned photographer and critic Robert MacFarlane remarked on this series: “ ... Lear sets the street back where it belongs — as a theatrical stage on which humans play and work ...”
The photographer comments that she wanted this series to sit in deliberate contrast with her overseas street photography. Lear remarks: “It would be too easy to simply place a comparative study of two street images from opposing sides of the world next to each other — the challenge was in giving common surroundings a twist, making them somewhat unrecognisable and in turn, leading the viewer to believe they were already looking at the other side of the world ...” She continues: “I wanted to show local audiences their everyday environment in a new light to try and influence a sense of wonder of their surroundings.”
She titled this series Blindspot, as a reference to the way we often move through our lives oblivious to the good fortune or everyday beauty surrounding us. In the West, she remarks, we can become “oblivious to the inherit beauty within the simplest moments and interactions, even smells. People in developing or conflicted countries don’t have the same blind spot because they are always looking for the fortunate in the unfortunate.”
The cool, nuanced images in Blindspot emerged, according to Lear, in reaction to the extroversion required for her teaching and journalistic work overseas. “It results in my Australian work being introverted, using it as a de-stress from the emotion of conflict and difficulty experienced … The visual result often ends with Australian work being quite abstract and removed whereas overseas work is journalistic and engaging.”
Wend Lear trained in graphic design at the University of South Australia, then worked as a commercial photographer in Adelaide, before packing her bags and moving to East Timor to teach photography in 2003. For the past decade she has continued to self-fund her journalistic projects overseas. With photographs published in news journals and magazines such as: The Australian Magazine, The Bulletin, The Australian Financial Review and The West Australian Magazine, it is tempting to describe Lear as a photo-journalist. However, she prefers to see herself as a street photographer or, as she says “Perhaps just a social commentator with a camera.”
Another major project she has been involved with is her visual diary of images, which she compiled into a fascinating hardcover book and published in 2011 under the title Imag[in]e. Initially a photo-a-day email project, she shot the images over the period of a year travelling through Australia, East Timor, Indonesia and Nigeria. Sales of the book go to funding her future photography workshops in developing nations.
Lear’s rich, dualistic life is reflected in the complex dichotomy of her photographic imagery. An intimate portrait of a family in Palestine or the inquisitive urchin face of a young Indonesian child contrasts sharply with her lonely anonymous figures in Blindspot. Through her work, Lear shakes up our complacency and serves to remind the viewer of the precarious and precious nature of life, something of which residents of war-ravaged countries are never allowed to forget.
It’s intriguing to speculate where Wend Lear’s work takes her next. After a self-imposed break, Lear says she has been researching the immigration issue with the possibility of developing a new set of works that will be an extension of the Blindspot series. She remarks enthusiastically: “It will be interesting to see where my eye wanders when I take the camera in hand again.”
Images from top:
Wend Lear, Lost in the Blindspot, 2010, Giclée archival print, 75 x 75cm.
Wend Lear, Blindspot, 2010, Giclée archival print, 75 x 75cm.
Wend Lear, I wish I was ..., 2010, Giclée archival print, 75 x 75cm.
Wend Lear, Blindspot II, 2010, Giclée archival print, 75 x 75cm.
Wend Lear, Bulletproof, 2010, Giclée archival print, 75 x 75cm.
Wend Lear, Blindman Dance, 2010, Giclée archival print, 75 x 75cm.